Zen approach to backups

Published: 2005-09-24
Last Updated: 2005-09-24 22:29:33 UTC
by Adrien de Beaupre (Version: 1)
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Now I am no expert on zen. I don't know anyone who is, and I don't play a zen master on TV. I do have some experience with data backups, and quite a bit attempting to do restores. Note the key word attempt. A number of times I have asked clients for their most recent backup tapes, only to realize that they are blank, too old, the tapes are damaged, the tapes are 30 KM away, or they did not back up the data they intended to.

What is zen anyway? One way to think of zen is that it is an approach to the journey of life. You become more aware of the journey as it happens, as well as the things and people around you. Zen is about those things that are within you, and interacting with your environment.

So how does zen have anything to do with data backups? Backups are one of those things we really know we should do. I have often said that there are only three rules to using computers. The first is to plan on doing backups. The second is actually doing the backups, and the third is to test those pesky backups to make sure they actually worked. It is funny that number three is the step we seem to miss out on the most. Not to pick on the number three, it should not feel left out, almost as many people fail to do number one or number two.

One of the interesting things about data is that it is actually constantly moving. It doesn't just lie there, you can only take snapshots in time. A good analogy is that data can be like water. The picture of how it looks at one point might not relate at all to how it looks later. You can take great care to contain the water, but it can also go stale, or the storage container can go bad as well. Having multiple copies of the data doesn't guarantee that they are the same at all. In approaching zen backup guru-hood you are unfortunately only as good as the last known good backup that you can restore.

What is data? Well one way of looking at it is all that stuff you would rather not lose. All that stuff that should be backed up, that is your data grasshopper. One of the funny (well not really) things about data is the more of it you have lost over time, the better you get at backups! You can learn wisdom through data loss grasshopper.   

Lets face it, working with computers can be interesting, fun, infuriating, frustrating, and educational. All at the same time. No matter how you feel about them, most of us keep rather important stuff on our computers. Think carefully and approach awareness of the value of the data on computers, both those at home and those at work. Realize the tragedy of complete loss of that data, let it permeate your being. Sense the power of a proper tested backup, the joy of being able to restore that data. Meditate and happily hum along with your favorite backup software and hardware. Place you backup media with reverence in its place of safety.

If you fail in these steps along the path to zen backups, have no worry. Really, was the data truly yours to begin with? If there is no sign of that data, who is to say it existed in the first place?

A reader mentioned that this story reminded him of a site he read a while back:
(Thanks Dan!)

Adrien de Beaupré
Handler of the day

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